Wine is to Verona what whisky is to Speyside or beer is to Bavaria. It is the lifeblood of the city. It underpins the local economy, sustains the regions cultural life and shapes the local discourse. Whilst in the city itself there are an abundance of enoteche, trattorie and botteghe to discover, you don't have to tread far beyond the city's walls to encounter the rich vineyards that provide a verdant greenbelt around the confines of the city.
To the east of the city, the white Garganega grape provides the still dry white wine of Soave. From the west, towards Lake Garda, comes the highly drinkable Bardolino, produced using a combination of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, and from the south-west comes Custoza, a medium bodied and refreshing white produced from a blend that includes Trebbiano, Garganega, Trebbianello and Bianca Fernanda. Also from this area comes the lesser known Lugana, a personal favourite of mine. Made mainly from the local Turbiana grape, Lugana is a fresh, elegant and well balanced white, the perfect summer tipple.
It is to the northeast of the city, though, that the vineyards of the regions most famous wines are to be found. The Valpolicella region is second only to Chianti in the number of Denomination di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines it produces. The Valpolicella Classico is typically made from three grape varieties, the Corvina Veronese, the Rondinella and the Molinara. While the Classico is a superbly drinkable, highly affordable, medium bodied red that should be your entry level red of choice while out and about in Verona. The Valpolicella Ripasso, made with partially dried grape skins is also well worth a snifter.
But, if you really want to experience a local delicacy, and your budget allows, treat yourself to a bottle of Amarone (or even just a glass). A strong, full bodied red wine made from grapes that have been left long on the vine and then specially dried, the velvety taste is simply unforgettable. At 15-16%, it's not for a school night! Ideal for an important meal, I'll certainly have a bottle of it on my table on Christmas day!
So, one Sunday afternoon in late autumn, I was particularly delighted to find myself outside the gates of Villa Mosconi Bertani, one of the most impressive villas in the Valpolicella region and home to the prestigious Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve cantina. We enjoyed a fascinating tour of the historic villa, the luxurious private gardens and the impressive wine cellar, before experiencing a mouthwatering taste of some of the cantina's best wines.
The Villa itself dates back to around 1735 when the Fattori family began construction on the site of an pre-existing 16th-century wine cellar. A settlement of some kind is thought to have existed here since at least the Roman period. In 1769 the still unfinished villa was sold to Mosconi, who completed construction and also added the English-style Romantic garden. Mosconi also expanded the estate's wine production, making it one of the largest wine cellars in Northern Italy. The villa was also an important intellectual and literary salon, frequented by important cultural figures of the time, including Romantic poet Ippolito Pindemonte, who spent much of his life translating Homer's Odyssey.
By the beginning of the 20th-century, though, the villa had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair and it was only in 1957, when it was bought and restored by the Bertani family, that it was returned to something approaching its former glory.
With breathtaking private gardens and stunning function rooms, the villa is now a popular wedding venue and regularly hosts classical concerts and other events.
It's also the perfect place to sample some local wines. Our tasting included the Soave Lepia Doc, the Torre Pieve Chardonnay, the Decima Aurea Merlot and the Amarone Docg, accompanied by a mouthwatering selection of local cheese and hams.
At harvest time in Valpolicella the vines are laden with over-ripened fruit and even the dogs seem intoxicated. Bathed in late autumn sunshine, the lawn in front of the villa is the perfect place to recover from an afternoon spent enjoying some of the finest wines you'll find anywhere in Italy.